Recycling is not a new word for school children, but teaching students to be interested in larger sustainability issues like urban farming, hydroponic technology, and alternative energy is a newer concept. The Department of Education hopes to change that by introducing a new course to its NYC After School Professional Development catalog.
The Water, Energy, and Waste course, provided by NY Sun Works, puts the teachers back in the classroom, showing them how to engage students in hands-on and innovative ways to preserve the environment.
“We are leaving them a huge mess, so they really have to be interested in it,” Vicki Sando, science teacher at P.S. 41, said at the course orientation on Monday evening. “If you spark that interest at a very young age, when they grow up and leave school, they will still have a connection to it.”
Sando said P.S. 41 has a garden program that has grown since 2003 and they are about to open a 15,000-square-foot green roof on top of the school building. She hoped to gain new ideas for the latest project during the course. “We don’t have a hydroponic system right now, but will be installing one, so I wanted to learn more about integrating that into the curriculum” Sando said.
The teachers attending the 6-week class at P.S. 333 will get a firsthand look at the options they have for their classroom in the state-of-the-art 1,400-square-foot rooftop greenhouse, which was built in partnership with NY Sun Works. The greenhouse provides hands-on education, allowing students to grow plants with a hydroponic system, including vegetables.
Manuela Zamora, director of education programs at NY Sun Works, hopes the training will allow the ideas of sustainability to expand to other classrooms, even if they do not have space or the funds for a large greenhouse at their school.
“We really need to prepare our kids—the next generation—to confront these problems. The only way to do that is by educating them so they will understand how the problems have been created and come up with solutions.”
The workshop will have a local focus, allowing the teachers—and the students they teach—to see how these techniques can be used even in an urban environment such as New York City. The course is taught by Shakira Castronovo, who will show the teachers how her students use city rainwater to fill their hydroponic gardening system. In addition, teachers will also be introduced to vertical farming, a major benefit in a space-conscious city.
Castronovo calls the greenhouse at P.S. 333 her classroom during the year. “I have always enjoyed sharing what I have learned with other teachers. It makes me feel I am getting into their classrooms because I am teaching the teachers,” she said. “I only have the students here, but by sharing my knowledge [with teachers], I am able to reach more students.”
Castronovo will customize the course based on the type of students the teachers have, which this semester includes mostly primary school and some special needs kids.
Just like their students, the teachers will be graded during the course, which is good for three “P” credits teachers must have to maintain their teaching certificate in New York City.
As part of the grade, Castronovo requires teachers to make a lesson plan, implement it in their classroom, and report back their success or failures. She hopes this will show the teachers that they can teach the sustainability ideas on a small scale.
“I don’t want people to think only a rich school can do this,” she said. “I would like to find ways to make it more accessible in other ways.”
Zamora said that this semester’s course was full with 13 teachers and they plan to offer it again in the summer and hopefully next fall.